02/05/2016 09:11 EST | Updated 02/05/2016 09:59 EST

Homeless Campers In Victoria, B.C. Have Had 'Stunning' Response To Eviction: Minister

Chad Hipolito/CP

VICTORIA — Homeless campers in Victoria should be celebrating instead of complaining after the government offered them a place to live and three meals a day in some cases, British Columbia's housing minister says.

Rich Coleman said eviction notices issued Friday require people living behind the courthouse to vacate the property by Feb. 25, with the option to apply for one of 88 new temporary shelter and rental units.

Coleman said it's "stunning'' that some campers are angry and have vowed to remain at the site, while taking legal action against the government over a claim they are occupying First Nations land.

"They said they had no place to live and they wanted somebody to pay attention. Somebody's paid attention."

"They said they had no place to live and they wanted somebody to pay attention. Somebody's paid attention, they now have a place to go. So why are you complaining? You should actually be celebrating today.''

Coleman said some of the campers at the illegal site actually need housing but others are merely protesting and should "move on because they're not there for the right reasons.''

Fifty of the 88 units will be available for about six months at a former youth jail in the community of View Royal where those residents will be given three meals a day. They will also have the option to camp in the courtyard, which can accommodate at least 20 tents.

"Why are you complaining? You should actually be celebrating today."

David Screech, mayor of View Royal, said homelessness is a regional issue that requires all jurisdictions to be part of the solution.

"With that philosophy, we are prepared to support Victoria and B.C. Housing's initiative to use the youth custody centre as a facility for the homeless on a temporary basis.''

The Housing Ministry said 38 rental spaces will be available for about a year at a cost of $375 a month at a building the province has bought for $3.65 million.

Coleman said two non-profit groups will operate both housing facilities at a cost of about $2.5 million and residents will be offered health services and a chance to find permanent housing and "turn their lives around.''

Campers wanted to maintain a sense of community

Campers began pitching tents behind the courthouse last spring, and in December the government offered 40 shelter spots.

About 100 people remained at the so-called Super InTent City, with some holding a news conference last month to say they wanted to retain a sense of community and put a public face on homelessness.

Coleman said the government issued the eviction notice Friday over safety concerns including the use of heaters, wooden structures that are a fire hazard and health concerns over lack of washrooms.

In December, a man died at the camp of a suspected drug overdose and another man was taken to hospital after being stabbed.

Police said neither the stabbing victim nor any of the campers co-operated with investigators.

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